The Technology of Pipe Bombs and Suspicious Packages, Explained

Popular Mechanics | 10/26/2018 | Staff

Over the last few days, several prominent figures have received pipe bombs from an unknown terrorist, apparently with a political motivation—all the targets are vocal critics of President Trump. Devices have been delivered through the mail and by courier to locations around the country.

In the wake of these troubling attacks, you may be wondering how the authorities determine that a package is "suspicious" and what happens after they carry the object away. Here's what you need to know.

People - Packages

How did people know the packages were suspicious?

The next devices found were sent to the homes of Barack Obama and Bill and Hillary Clinton, all of whom still have their mail screened by the Secret Service. The Secret Service is pretty good at spotting suspicious things. After that, authorities were on the lookout for similar packages, in manila envelopes with printed addresses and about a half dozen American flag stamps.


What is a pipe bomb, anyway?

A pipe bomb is an explosive that uses the pressure of a strong container—in this case, a pipe—to amplify the power of explosive materials within. In other words: Because the pipe keeps an explosion contained until it reaches a much greater pressure than it would in open air, a simple pipe filled with gunpowder or even matchstick heads can create a devastating explosion. Pipe bombs are the most common type of improvised explosive device found in the U.S.


What can we tell from the bomb that we’ve seen?

According to reporting on the bomb from The New York Times, the pipe bomb may actually not be capable of functioning as intended, if at all. The end caps appear to be taped in place, which would not provide the seal needed to build up the pressure that can make pipe bombs so deadly. Additionally, the pipe bombs have those conspicuous clocks attached—something...
(Excerpt) Read more at: Popular Mechanics
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